Review: A Christmas Carol. Derby Theatre.

four STAR

Amidst the dazzling sparkle and commercial glitter of all that Christmas has become, Derby Theatre stops the clock, and takes us on a journey back to a simpler time with A Christmas Carol. Like curling up by the fireside and reading a book, whilst snow falls outside, this production slows down time, quietens the noise and hub-bub, and asks us to be mindful of the real story of Christmas.

A Christmas Carol at Derby Theatre Photo Robert Day 4

Neil Duffield’s adaptation of the renowned Dickens tale of Scrooge retains all the most memorable moments but turns the lengthy novel into a play with plenty of detail and interest. Oliver O’Shea directs, building on the original 2014 production directed by Sarah Brigham, and keeps the action flowing with plenty of contrast and action, and perfectly timed stage management, much of which is done by the actors themselves. This ensemble cast of just eight play a huge number of roles between them, and also provide the musical accompaniment by playing instruments at the same time. The Blue Team of children performing this evening are super confident and perform beautifully.

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Whilst it is a play, Musical Director and Composer Jack Quarton adds greatly to the atmosphere with music woven throughout. Many traditional carols appear, often with complex harmonies, and add to the festive spirit, whilst the incidental music underpins the changes of place and character. The ghostly apparitions are accompanied by haunting, atonal sounds (from a waterphone, who even knew that was an instrument!) which send a chill down the spine.

A Christmas Carol at Derby Theatre (Gareth Williams as Scrooge) Photo Robert Day

 
Gareth Williams as Scrooge shows the humanity of the man, from bitter frailties to regret and shame, and finally to redemption and joy. From the Bah Humbug caricature to the hurt and humbled old man, Williams is spot on. Starting slowly, and quite wordily, the show lifts from the entrance of the ghost of Jacob Marley, who is both threatening and comedic at the same time. Ordinary clothes become puppets with the clever use of a few sticks and this visual illusion is effective, it would be great to see more of this type of thing. Games, dancing and past times are used throughout to both set the play historically and maintain the innocence and simplicity of the story.

 

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The striking staging by Neil Irish is a constant reminder of the passing of time, with clock hands turning back and forth to reflect the coming and going of the ghosts. It’s skeletal styling and Heath Robinson look echo the Victorian industrial age, and also provide plenty of levels with which to play. Emma Jones’ lighting spectacularly moves us from warm home to ship’s deck, from ghostly nightmare to sunny countryside, and adds real depth to the production.

 

A Christmas Carol (Gareth Williams as Scrooge and James McLean as Ghost of Christmas Present 2)

A Christmas Carol at Derby Theatre (Gareth Williams as Scrooge and Oliver Ashworth as Bob Cratchit)

 
Dickens’ wrote A Christmas Carol in part to highlight the dreadful poverty which many vulnerable people and children were living in at the time, due to ‘Ignorance and Want’, with Tiny Tim being just one example. In a synchronous fit with this, Derby Theatre supports Plus One, a scheme which allows young people in care and care leavers to access live arts experiences and see shows for free. Sarah Brigham, Chief Executive and Artistic Director, announced this had reached £40,000 and gave thanks to all their audiences for the support.

 

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A Christmas Carol at Derby Theatre offers a heart-warming, family friendly antidote to the often garish and over the top spectacle that is pantomime season. It is a reflective play, with story-telling at its heart and all the more honest for it. God bless us, everyone.

A Christmas Carol at Derby Theatre runs until Saturday 4th January.

Photos credit: Robert Day

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